There’s heavy music, and then there’s music that blows past that designation on its way to hewing out space in the strangest and most obscure corners of the “heavy music” spectrum. It’s at this point that genre designations seem insufficient – a band like Earth has as much in common with everyday metal as John Coltrane does. Ocrilim’s new album Anoint is “metal” in the sense that it’s constructed entirely out of noisy, feedback-gnarled guitar riffs, but similarities between this strangely lovely thing and Slipknot end there.
Ocrilim is the brainchild of Mick Barr, freak-out guitarist extraordinaire. Formerly one half of Crom-Tech and currently one half of Orthrelm (as well as the newest member of the eternal revolving door that is The Flying Luttenbachers), Barr has earned his stripes in the world of avant-metal. Orthrelm, if you’re unfamiliar with them, once released an album that compressed 99 songs into 13 minutes. Their last album, OV, was a one-song affair that saw Barr playing the same two notes for the first 15 minutes of the composition. What does one do for an encore after that? If you’re Mick Barr, you go off and make Anoint.
The concept behind Anoint is simple: It’s Barr and his guitar times five. What he’s done is create five separate audio tracks and layer them on top of one another, three of which play the lead line and two of which play the bass line. It’s the one-man band concept tweaked and twisted to suit Barr’s particular muse. This is a curious concept, to be sure; what’s even more curious is the extent of its effectiveness.
And effective it certainly is – the droning, squealing mass of guitar noise that Barr’s coaxed out of his instrument is thrilling for a noise addict like myself. From the first note, Anoint rips into any nearby ears, whether they’re ready for it or not. The ferocious force of Barr’s playing is not to be ignored, especially on the bass lines, which are occasionally so fuzzy and dank that they don’t seem like sounds that should be comprehensible to human ears. The sonic assault is such that it’s easy to lose oneself in it, doubly so in some of the more atmospheric passages like the single-minded hum-of-locusts passage halfway through track four or the locked groove that closes track one. (There are no song titles.) This is a lot of noise to absorb at once; for this reason, multiple listens are recommended.
Not that repeat spins of Anoint are grueling. This is definitely noisy, but it’s not aimless. Indeed, there’s a certain purity of form within Barr’s arrangements. The trick with this album (as with most varieties of freeform and avant-garde music) is to pay attention. What seems shapeless in fact has a structure and rigor to it that never fails to dazzle. Part of this is Barr’s penchant for pushing the music in unexpected directions; the most notable and amusing of these digressions appears about two minutes into track three, when the squiggly display of virtuosity that Barr has been shredding on drops out and gets replaced by a light-hearted five-note intermission, after which Barr proceeds to stretch out a molasses-thick doom riff. This, too, is periodically interrupted by the five-note smile.
Repeated motifs also serve to add coherence to Anoint. For example, that doom-metal riff that serves as track three’s midsection reappears as the opening salvo of track four. Similarly, tracks one and two, at least to my ears, sound as though they’re constructed off slightly different versions of the same musical passage. And track six flows into track seven using a frantic series of high-pitched notes that sound like an alternate-universe version of the main theme to Psycho. The point is, if you’re going to listen, be prepared to listen closely.
The most surprising thing about this project, though, isn’t the virtuosity or inventiveness – it’s the unusual grace contained within the squall. Barr isn’t just flailing away on his guitar; rather, he’s trying to use the abstraction of noise as a way to reach a transcendence. Anoint is brutal, but it’s also often possessed of an unusual beauty. The bass line is the holder of much of this – check out the unexpected upshifting of it at the close of track three, or the way it bleats through the haze of the three-headed lead near the end of track seven like a boat approaching a lighthouse in the mist. If you can’t see it, try imagining this reconfigured for a string quintet. You’ll understand what I mean.
Mick Barr has topped himself with Ocrilim’s Anoint, a transfixing, puzzling and uplifting work of art. In a sense, this is the culmination of everything he’s been doing prior to this. Its fulfillment of its lofty aspirations allow it to soar above most other albums of its ilk. It’s also, lest we forget, righteously noisy. Turn this up to full blast and let it envelop you – it’s the only way.